Trending from G/L: Oskar Blues Fuels American Outlaws and St. Louis Soccer

Geile/Leon Marketing Communications

Trending from G/L: Oskar Blues Fuels American Outlaws and St. Louis Soccer

The rise of craft brewing over the past decade has been nothing short of staggering. In 2014, small and independent craft breweries contributed more than $55 billion to the American economy. In St. Louis alone, we’re spoiled with the likes of Urban Chestnut, Perennial Artisan Ales, Civil Life and so many more.

The saturation of this market presents an interesting dilemma: how do you grow your brand and make it stand out without the budget of, say, A-B InBev?

This was (and still is) a challenge for Oskar Blues Brewery, a Colorado-based brewery that opened a satellite facility in North Carolina three years ago. A report earlier this year listed Oskar Blues as the twenty-fourth largest craft brewer in the country. That’s not bad, but competing with the names at the top of the list, including Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Lagunitas, is no easy task. Certainly, social media is an incredibly powerful tool, but it takes time and content (and money) to use at a highly effective level.

“We tend to stay pretty true to our core beers and brands,” says brand spokesperson Aaron Baker. “Consistency and quality of the beer is a large part of what we do.”

When it comes to trying to sponsor events – whether it’s music, sports or other festivals, the price points can be very high. U.S. Soccer, for example, currently has a sponsorship deal with A-B InBev, which is not an easy thing to compete with. The other brands U.S. Soccer partners with likely have marketing dollars to spend.

So how else can a brand reach that target audience?

An important thing to note about American soccer as compared to other sports – supporters culture is a very big deal. Organized chants and events are tailored more to the fan than to the team itself. Not to discredit other sports, but there’s a certain level of pride associated with a soccer supporter that’s tough to top.

The main supporters group for the United States National Team is The American Outlaws. Founded in 2007, the group’s popularity has exploded during the past two World Cups (2010 and 2014). In fact, the group now boasts a paid membership base of more than 30,000 die-hard fans.

So – Oskar Blues Brewery – meet The American Outlaws.

The partnership didn’t happen overnight, according to Baker. When he heard that the Outlaws were not renewing a sponsorship agreement with Budweiser, he reached out to AO leadership to gauge interest about collaborating together. After about a year of discussion, they were able to agree on a partnership, linking AO and Dale’s Pale Ale, the brewery’s flagship brew.

So far, the AO-DPA connection seems to be a natural fit.

“Dale’s (as a beer brand) is very supportive of what people are passionate about,” says Baker. “When you support passion like what The American Outlaws have, you’re going to be successful.”

The relationship seems to be mutually beneficial. It keeps Dale’s Pale Ale, which makes up 50% of Oskar Blues’ sales, top of mind at various events. It also fits in well with their event-focused approach to marketing, which their local reps have an opportunity to build personal interactions on an ongoing basis. Plus, being able to send promotional products directly to each AO chapter’s local bar is a great way to leverage that grassroots network. As Baker says, getting “cans in hands” is a big part of building brand awareness.

For The American Outlaws…well, free beer will always make you friends. But beyond that, having a go-to national beer brand that still has grassroots craft credibility seems to be very important to the traveling soccer supporter. Plus, a red, white and blue can gets you lots of ‘Merica points.

American Outlaws
Photo Credit: The Free Beer Movement

The future for both Oskar Blues and The American Outlaws seems bright. Oskar Blues is building a third brewery in Austin, which will open in May 2016.

With the United States Men’s National Team playing at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Friday, there should be an electric atmosphere on the day of the game as well as the night before. A near-sellout crowd is expected with The American Outlaws section holding more than 1000 people. Expect lots of red, white and blue on and off the field.

If you’re planning to make it out to the game, let us know. I’ll make sure to grab a beer for ya.

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REI stays true to brand despite Black Friday temptation

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

REI stays true to brand despite Black Friday temptation

Last week, outdoor and camping retailer REI announced it would be closed for Black Friday, one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year. This gutsy move will pay off in spades over the long-term, increasing both customer and employee loyalty. CEO Jerry Stritzke has decided to buck the traditional retail mentality of being open on the biggest shopping day of the year and put the brand and his employees first.

If you go to the REI website, you’ll see a countdown page to Black Friday and an open letter from REI CEO Jerry Stritzke which is simple and to the point. Here it is:

“You read that correctly. On November 27, we’ll be closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside. Here’s why we’re doing it. For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth. We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us. “We’re closing on Black Friday and going outside. Since 1938 we’ve been bringing you great gear and services to get you out there too. That’s our story.”

This is a brand that is not tempted by short-term gain. REI is more focused on long-term growth and, most importantly, staying true to the brand promise of embracing the outdoors and supplying outdoor enthusiast with the advice and gear they require to enjoy their passion. My guess is the national PR attention this has and will garner over the coming weeks will be more powerful in engraining the REI brand into our culture and life than any amount of paid advertising. And to boot, REI is making Black Friday a paid holiday for its employees.

Bravo to REI for being fearless and staying true to their brand. I plan to partake in the outdoors as well on Black Friday…and I plan to buy a few Christmas gifts from your store this holiday season.

If you’re a brand focused on thinking about the big-picture and about long-term success, let us know. We love hearing stories like this.

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How to fight Ad Blockers? More Quality Content and Native Advertising

Mary Sawyer
Vice President of Public Relations

How to fight Ad Blockers? More Quality Content and Native Advertising

While in the past, some companies and publishers have scoffed about advertorials, or sponsored content that is designed to look like editorial, now there is a renewed interest in native advertising. Ad blockers are changing the entire equation of how to reach consumers.

According to a report commissioned by Adobe and conducted by PageFair, the number of consumers using ad blockers in the U.S. increased 48 percent during the last year. There are 198 million active adblock users around the world.

With Apple announcing that they are allowing ad-blocking apps, digital advertising is on the verge of being turned upside down. Consumers want to avoid advertising as they listen to music, stream videos or check their mobile devices. They’ll download apps and pay extra for services that block ads.

PR and social media practitioners have been counseling companies that “content needs to be a priority” for all marketing efforts. Now, ad blockers are driving home the necessity of producing entertaining or educational subject matter that provides a positive end user experience.

With native advertising, the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience. The intention is to invite the consumer to be engaged.

Native advertising is everywhere online, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, YouTube and Buzzfeed. Good native advertising, like good public relations, should be informative and relevant to the reader.

A consumer might be more than happen to read a story sponsored by a consumer packaged good company if she can obtain an easy dessert recipe. Likewise, a pet owner looking for grooming tips might gladly watch sponsored instructional videos. Whether you have a B2B or B2C company, you will need to be promoting your product or service in a new way to effectively utilize native advertising.

For years, online marketers watched as banner ad clicks plummeted and then disappeared. Marketers followed up with a variety of other methods to squeeze their message onto a given page, but consumers became fed up with cluttered websites, obtrusive videos and interference to what they want to see.

It’s time for marketers to realize that if they want to get their brand message through to these folks, native advertising presents great opportunities. It is a combination of PR and advertising that can be tremendously leverage through social media. Content that is engaging, enlightening and/or entertaining can be shared with ease, and provide the marketer with huge audiences.

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